Rewriting the story of my life

One day in mid-February 2010, a friend, H, shot himself after his car was repossessed. He had also recently emerged from a messy divorce, but his financial woes pushed him over the edge that day. However, he also had many close friends who loved him and thought he was larger than life, who were shocked and devastated at his surprising self-harm.

self-image in BuddhismIt seems to me that H must have had an abysmally out of whack self-image if he hated himself enough to blow his own head off. The demon self-cherishing –  exaggerated disappointment at my wishes not being fulfilled, seeing them as the most important thing in the world – contributed to that sad, needless tragedy. Certainly it was not love or wisdom. Self-grasping ignorance and attachment caused him to create and believe a mental fiction about who he was, ie, a failure, someone whose life was not worth living. Yet all his friends knew that he was a lovely sweet engaging man and had everything to live for — he could have been a Bodhisattva if that was the story he had told himself instead on that day in February. There was a lesson in this for all of us who knew him. We have to be wise about who we believe we are and what we need, or, one way or another, slowly or quickly, we will self-destruct.

Dealing with a broken heart

When painful feelings arise, it is wise not to resist them – what you resist persists – but see them as passing bad weather in the mind without repressing or indulging them. Further to this I have thought: (a) my thoughts don’t have to be that scary, they are bubbles arising from the root mind, they won’t kill me if I don’t buy into them and they disappear if I stop thinking them, and (b) those feelings and thoughts are empty — even within them is a non-conceptual wisdom and peace if I allow myself to experience it. A very wise Buddhist nun once gave me this advice to cure my broken heart:

Vajrayogini faceWhen bad feelings come, and the whole body and mind ache, instead of resisting it, it is good to let the suffering arise in the mind, become one with it, and look at it so closely – it dissolves into emptiness and beyond this there is nothing. Where is it, what, why? It dissolves into emptiness. Don’t be afraid of the feeling of suffering. It is just imputation, just label.  See that there is nothing there, only the mind of clear light, which is bliss and emptiness. Then feel love for everyone. Be Vajrayogini.

A friend told me that when she was once suffering from heavy and unrequited attachment, her perennially down to earth mother told her that it is like trying to quit smoking – the cravings come and the cravings also go. Which got me thinking about how to relate to ourselves in such a way that we are able to give up attachment – all forms of dependency and heavy sadness. How if H had related to himself differently, none of the above would have happened, and today we could all be having a laugh with him. I had had a lovely conversation with him the previous summer at Madhyamaka Center – he had Tantric empowerments, he was really loving his Vajrayogini retreat. So why didn’t he keep believing he was a blissful, wise, free enlightened being instead of the ordinary dead-end fiction of being a lonely, financially incompetent, rejected man? In truth, both are fictions, both are mere thought or labels, but so is everything; and there is a world of infinite possibilities in the clear light of our limitless Buddha nature, the seed of enlightenment, the seed of the Dharmakaya.

When we try to give up smoking, we have to identify with being a non-smoker who occasionally has manageable cravings (which can even be a useful teacher) as opposed to a smoker who unnaturally has to give up something that is part of them and is ending up in a state of need and loss. No one will live like that for long, in need and loss – we would sooner cave in to the attachment. But in the invisible world of our boundlessly creative mind, especially moment by moment, if we think wisely we can see that we need nothing more, we have lost nothing, we have nothing to fear from the future.

Mental fictions and self-image

planets 1We tell ourselves stories about ourselves and what we need all the time. They are all mental fictions. There is no reality behind those hallucinatory empty thoughts. We can think anything we want in the invisible world, the world of the mind, of which this manifest physical world is simply like a mirror reflection. Mind is formless. Mind is invisible (also we can’t hear it, smell it etc.). Working at the level of our subtlest mind, dropping our awareness from our head into our root mind at our heart chakra, is far more effective too; and we can do that through belief to begin with. Close your eyes, drop into your heart, and think about who you are, where you are, what you are. This world of the mind – of experience, of feelings, even of physical sensations – is the only world there actually is. Can you point to any world or body or self outside of your experience of it? (And even the mind is empty of existing from its own side, dependent on its reflections or perceptions to exist.) Close our eyes, and we can think that we are jumping from planet to planet. Someone told me that when she closes her eyes she can think that she can walk — and she has always been in a wheelchair. Someone else told me that in her mind, and her experience, she thinks she is whole, even though a truck left her unable to stand up straight without feeling compression and pain.

We can think we are a smoker, dependent on cigarettes for our happiness. Or we can think we are a non-smoker. When the craving arises, it is just some habit we got into, and we are not a smoker, so it is natural to not seek the cigarette and just see that habit as a temporary cloud in the vast expanse of sky. One of my favorite Geshe Kelsang quotes is:

We should not let our habits dominate our behavior or act as if we were sleepwalking. ~ Meaningful to Behold, p. 190

When we are attached to someone, we can and often do make up this mental fiction: “I am dependent on them for my happiness. I need them. I am weak without them. If they seem uninterested, I behave like a bumbling idiot around them to get their attention. I am in a state of loss when they are not in my life or when they reject me. I miss them, they are missing. The future is empty without them. Only they understand me, really. To give them up will leave me in a state of lacking, it will leave me incomplete, needing something I no longer have. Even if I know I have to give them up, or they have died, it is unnatural, as it is going to cause me to be shadow of my former self, and the life they breathed into me will be gone.” Etc etc.

live in the momentIf we check, this is not a pleasant self-image and does not give rise to any genuine feelings of joy, only relief on the occasions that they call us and say, “Everything is alright, I love you, marry me, I’m not really dead”, etc. Until the relief passes, as by nature relief does. Relief is so-called changing suffering, only a temporary release of, or distraction from, underlying need and want and suffering, like scratching an itch according to Nagarjuna. Also, we hold on tightly to the supposed source of our wholeness, which is perceived as out there not within, and get rope burn as the rope must inevitably slide through our fingers due to impermanence. We condense the whole universe into one person so that it must crumble when they disappear.

Whereas we can make up any fiction we want anytime. And we can believe it, if it is helpful, while knowing that it is empty of inherent reality. Our self-image changes all the time anyway, and we can change it ourselves far more easily than we might have thought possible. In the invisible world, there are infinite possibilities (whether you want to look at this spiritually or quantumly or both). Everything begins in the mind, in the imagination. What will happen if instead of thinking I have lost everything I held dear, I think instead: “I have everything I need for my happiness right here and now. This moment is perfect. I am strong. I am able to experience love, compassion, renunciation, faith, wisdom, joy and bliss. I am a Bodhisattva. I am a Yogini in a charnel ground, fearful of nothing and no one, transforming everything, surrounded by the corpses of my own and others’ fake suffering self-images. I am a Buddha.”

We don’t need to think “I want to be Buddha some day” or “I will be Buddha in the future”. Wanting or hoping creates a gap between who we think we are now (some deluded being with big problems) and who we might be in some la la land future. And how will we bridge that gap?  If we can’t bridge it today, why will we be able to tomorrow? Instead, we already ARE, and we relate to that and happily create all the causes for it in the here and now – meditations on love and compassion, the six perfections, bliss and emptiness, the central channel, and so on. Or, simply put, we can start with a thought like, “I am a loving person who has everything I need”, and let our belief in our good qualities get bigger and bigger over time, as our imagination and wisdom appreciating the nature of these good qualities improves.

If there are infinite possibilities and no constraint on thought, if I can be anything, why not be a Buddha? The previous holy beings have paved the way for this and shown the best possible self-image in their Tantric revelations. How could we possibly come up with something this deep, sophisticated, or blissful without their input?! Therefore, “I am a Buddha, such as Avalokiteshvara or Tara, or Heruka and Vajrayogini, manifesting all the infinite bounty and good qualities of the Dharmakaya in every moment and leading all living beings to that state.” Also: “I can accept any unpleasant feelings/emotions/sensations — they are just clouds drifting in the endless blissful expanse of my mind, useful for teaching me about renunciation and compassion and wisdom. Like pleasant feelings, they are also just manifestations of the empty sky of the basic Dharmakaya. I can welcome and embrace them, and in doing so they miraculously have no more power to hurt. They also dissolve away, as all thoughts do sooner or later, because nothing lasts even a moment.” space goer

Well, who is there to contradict that? It is just as real or unreal as “I am useless without you.” Who says? Also, when we think of others looking at us pityingly, “Poor thing, she is useless without him”, (a) it is unlikely that they are in fact wasting much time thinking that – people tend to relate to us as far more of a whole individual than we do ourselves when we’re suffering heartache; and (b) when we change our view of ourselves, people will follow suit, sooner or later. With love and compassion, we don’t care or take seriously what people project on us in any case, we mainly want to help them – there is no need for their approval of us, we are more interested in their view of themselves.

Of course it is more “realistic” as in closer to reality to view ourselves as whole, as complete, as loving, as a Buddha, because our real nature is our Buddha nature. Our wisdom understanding that nothing is fixed is what enables us to change into whatever we want to change into, to transform; and that wisdom is the ground of our new experience. This is as opposed to our self-grasping ignorance, which is the ground of our attachment and aversion to real things and people, including our own depressing self-image. “It must be real because it appears to me that way!!! I’m not moving until the reflection in the mirror moves!”

Telling ourselves the same old stories and clichés about our own and others’ lives will never liberate us from suffering. We will simply live the clichés again and again and again — birth, ageing, sickness, death, disappointment, lack of fulfillment, dissatisfaction, birth, ageing, etc. Cyclic existence (Skt. samsara) just is one big cliché. The other day when I was complaining about getting older and uglier, looking I think for sympathy or reassurance, my friend effectively shut me up by saying this instead:

“The story of samsara has no answer.”

How long do we need?

There is a lot of talk these days about “manifesting”, eg, The Secret, a Course in Miracles, so called ‘new thought’. From a Buddhist point of view, manifesting a favorable reality depends not only upon our way of perceiving reality but also upon the karmic appearances created by our good and kind intentions. And, from a Buddhist point of view, if we can manifest reality, we may as well skip the ordinary samsaric manifestations of wealth, companionship, sex, a good reputation etc. “Be careful what you wish for!”, as the saying goes, partly because a large number of our desires are contradictory eg, pizza and a great figure, excitement and security, a long life and eternal youth, etc. Instead, we can go for the blissful enlightened reality that will always help both ourselves and others. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We can gradually come to identify with every pure, enlightened quality as explained in the Sutras and manifested in Technicolor in the Tantric Deities and mandalas, and progress will be swift – we can even gain enlightenment in one lifetime. Buddha

One lifetime?!?! You sure?! Well, given the infinite possibilities of the Dharmakaya, the extraordinary and fortunate reality that Buddha himself has appeared in our life and consciousness to introduce us to these, and the reality that all the methods exist and have always worked, why not?! Why would it take more than one lifetime if we really believe it? If we come to know that nothing is really out there, how long do we need to dismantle it? If we come to know that our thoughts are empty, invisible, with nothing really behind them, how long do we need to change them?

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

48 thoughts on “Rewriting the story of my life”

  1. What a fantastic article! There’s so much in it I lost track of the points I wanted to comment on! Two stand out.

    One is the power of imagination and the ways in which it can blast us out of samsara into a mind of bliss no matter what the challenge. When I teach this (often better than I practice it), I like to relieve the skepticism of the doubters by analogizing imagination to visualization in performance in, say, sports and public speaking, where imagining or visualizing the desired result in advance (hitting a home run or getting a standing ovation) actually has been proven to help bring about that result. So long as, as Geshe-la would remind us, it is “correct imagination.”

    The second is simply how wonderfully optimistic Buddhism is. I could reread this article and probably highlight a dozen sentences that are solutions to problems, encouragements, wake-up calls, positive attitudes, etc. Amazing. We are so, so fortunate.

    Thank you dear Luna.

    1. I love that example you bring up of visualization in performance, makes a lot of sense so I will be “borrowing” it 🙂 Like I borrow lots of your good ideas!

      And, yes, Buddhism is so optimistic — it is realistic, and it turns out that reality is just fine.

  2. This was so powerful and touched me deeply in more ways than I could describe.
    This is certainly one to be read again and again. So much wisdom.
    We are so fortunate to have met living Buddha in this lifetime.
    I am reminded of the saying “this is no time to sleep you fool.”
    I have been a fool for too many lifetimes!
    Thank you so much Luna!☺️

  3. Hahahha, the phonecall we are all waiting for: “Everything is alright, I love you, marry me, I’m not really dead”… Have you been reading my mind??? 😉

  4. Hi Luna – which page is that quote in please? The one from Meaningful to Behold..?

    1. Page 190. Good tip to find quotes in Geshe-la’s books if you don’t have them handy is to go to the book on Amazon, press “Look inside”, and type in the word or phrase.

  5. Thanks for another great post, Luna. It’s amazing that you’re able to keep this up. I haven’t replied to any of your other posts, but have read and re-read many already. I’m a student in many of the classes at the Dharmachakra BC in Palm Springs … hopefully more folks will be benefitting from your kindness and energy. Thanks again. With love, Dennis

  6. Thank you for sharing such a wise post 🙂
    I think your final question is evocative – the idea that we know how we exist, the nature of our thoughts and that the power is within us to change…why can’t we see see enlightenment as a reality for us in this one lifetime…there is infinite possibilty on what we can be and that there is nothing ‘out there’ making us a certain way. It all derives from mind – our thoughts, our life, our experiences. I love the reminder that there is nothing ‘out there’ to dismantle…so, let’s stop agonzing like there is and realize our true potential.

    1. Buddha Vajradhara, Je Tsongkhapa, Geshe Kelsang, they’ve all said enlightenment can be attained in one lifetime. It is only our ordinary grasping that finds that hard to believe.

  7. It’s hopelessness, sheer hopelessness filling the mind. Wonderful H.’s delusions blocked the love he was surrounded by and the many blessings he still had . H. focused on his losses rather than his Buddha nature, though he was always encouraging friends to have positive minds. Friends and Sangha friends reached out to him, but H. was blinded by despair and couldn’t see his good qualities. Instead, he saw what he lost. When I think of him, I see what he couldn’t: kindness, humor, smarts, and a love of Dharma.

  8. First of all, my condolences for the lost of your friend. Great post, thanks for your effort to show us the Buddhist point of view about heartbroken. You know, I’m so identified with your story, in fact, it could have happened to me. About two years ago I was deeply depressed, even I had death thought. But in my case meditation came in my help, and now I can say my mind are changed a lot, even I think the next years can will be the best of my life, due to the new awareness that are coming to me. And I’m agree with you: why we can’t achieve enlightenment in this life? Frequently we think enlightenment is far away, but not so, the only obstacle is our ordinary mind, it can open to light at any time.

  9. Love it. Thanks so much for this. I lost a dear friend in the same way years ago and this helps my mind in relation to this as well as many other life events. Well written. <3

  10. wow. it takes so much courage to let go of fear, and i paint myself so scared… may we all step into the loving embrace of the Guru Deity and let him/her do it for us!

  11. Thanks for this Luna – and for being so real. I’m a woman, about the same age as you, who also complains out loud about getting older and uglier (also fatter!) – what a cliché! I love your friend’s response – “the story of samsara has no answer” – no happy ending either. Why not re-write our story? Make it about becoming wiser, more loving, more compassionate, more caring – truly happy ever after. We think: “No, this IS the way things really are. I AM older, uglier, fatter…” BUT I’m also wiser, more compassionate, more loving, more caring. Which story do I want to tell? Which story feels good to tell – to myself and to others? Perhaps it is just that simple – once we are aware of it. Thank you for helping me see this.

  12. So helpful right now as I am going through a separation and the 1st dog of my friend died at my house while I was taking care of her for the day after she’d had a stroke that very morning. Thank you.

    1. I will make prayers for your friend’s dog. Who exactly had the stroke, couldn’t quite figure it out? Does you friend need prayers too?

  13. OK… OK… “BUT” 63 years later, with ex. wife, ex. business, 3 daughters, 2 sons-in-law, 5 grandchildren,a girl friend, a lot more family and friends, leaving by myself in a little apartment, trying with a simple job to pay expenses… All these in my very life… which road must i take to get to keajra?? haaa and i drive a white car… Hooo… i said it… Hops… what a relief so far (^_^)

  14. Seeing bad thoughts and feelings as “passing bad weather in the mind without repressing or indulging them”isn’t so easy to do; but so worth it, isn’t it!
    Like Geshe-la says, our mind is like the sky, big enough to take a few storms.
    Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  15. Wow. I woke up this morning, thought “I may die today.” Then I pulled out my electronic journal to write up my focus for my meditation session (also Lamrim o’ the day was “Death and Impermanence” – hmmm. Then I clicked this for some inspiration. Wow. So then I thought “if I DO die today, and I could manage to hold your words from this teaching all day until that last moment, I would have had a very meaningful last day. Just goes to show, emanations appear everywhere and everything is possible. Thank you for your continuous kindness with these posts. They help all of us so much with our practice. You rock.

  16. Talking about manifesting makes me giggle a week ago I said to my dad I would love a table like at the Buddhist centre that I could put my Dharma books on when I sit to do my meditation and prayers for others, my dad said what size all I said was low as I sit on a cusion, mum made me giggle never having been to the centre saying where would you put your legs lol, today my dad turned up with the most beautiful polished hand made table that his friend made for me 🙂 how kind I thought bless him taking the time to make that for me, and for my dad to drive to my home and bring it for me, made me very emotional actually how kind other people are around me allowing me to do the work that sits in my heart, and to think all that manifested from a kind thought I had to help me to work more to help others!
    Happy manifesting 🙂

      1. The giggling makes a happy soul only the wish to share love and peace as the goal. 🙂 x

  17. Lovely. It is as if this article was born from an entire cheer leading squad of dakinis!

Leave a Reply